The Trip That Changed My Life
Whenever I tell people I run a travel site, one of the inevitable questions I get asked (usually after they ask if I can help them get a discount on a trip) is what my favorite country was to visit. I’m sure people from all sorts of professions get asked similar questions. Chefs probably get asked all the time what their favorite meal was, authors probably get asked who their favorite author is, and surgeons probably get asked . . . actually, I’m not sure about this one — what is their favorite part of the body they enjoy performing operations?
Anyways, needless to say, it’s never an easy answer, and I usually begin my response by stammering on about how I try to have a great time in every destination that I visit, and how each place has their own unique charm and how hard it is to compare and rank locations. At which point, the person’s eyes begin to glaze over and I can tell they are questioning why they bothered to ask me in the first place.
Not wanting to disappoint, I usually then try to wrap up with a giant generalization like: I love traveling in Latin America, the food is great there. Or I say: Well, I just got back from “blank” and the weather was great, and I had a fun time. You can go ahead and try to answer this same question over at Contiki where you can share your experience with the world.
However, when I really think about it, the truth of the matter is that my mind usually begins to wander back to my first big trip I took after I started TheExpeditioner many moons ago, which was my trip to Argentina and Chile. I had recently graduated school, and it was the first big international trip I was going to take outside of North America and Europe. The site was in its nascent stage, and believe it or not, was pre-Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, so my primary goal was to document my trip each day via Blogspot, and to take enough video with my DV camcorder to work on my first travel video for my YouTube page.
Weeks before the trip, in excited anticipation, I remember buying my first camcorder, picking up a copy of the Argentina Lonely Planet and stocking up on various travel accouterments including a plug converter, eye mask for the plane ride, a travel alarm clock, ear plugs and a quick-drying bath towel. For a 15-day trip, I was beyond fully prepared (and, embarrassingly, entirely over-packed given the length of my trip).
Once I flew down to Buenos Aires, the trip went off without a hitch. It was late November, the Jacarandas were in bloom and the city was alive like only a city during the early onset of spring can be. I remember wandering the streets of Palermo, snapping pictures of nearly every building I came across and stopping to grab a snack nearly every time I came across a cafe or street vendor. I remember striking up conversations with the other backpackers in my hostel and drinking $1 beers downstairs in the hostel bar late at night with them, swapping stories about their home countries and listening to everyone’s tales from their various backpacking trips across the continent and throughout the world.
And I remember how every late afternoon or early evening, I would dutifully saddle up to the hostel computer or neighborhood internet cafe (try finding those anymore), and log in to the site to upload pictures and update my day’s adventures, including everything from wandering around Recoleta to my excursion into the Pampas to visit San Antonio de Areco and its gaucho culture.
By the end of the trip, when I wrapped things up in Santiago, Chile, I had successfully recorded 14 straight blog entries from my trip (for the dozen or so people that were reading it at the time), captured a good 300 pictures for use later, and taken about 3 hours of shaky video footage for hopeful use later in a travel video. Inside my bag, I had a collection of pieces of scrap paper with various email addresses, notes and phone numbers collected along the way.
But most importantly, as I flew home late that last evening, I thought about how much I didn’t want the trip to end, and how much I was looking forward to getting back on a plane and doing it all over again somewhere else in the world, including writing the late-night blog updates, taking the hundreds of pictures and shooting the countless hours of B-roll video of buildings and street scenes. The travel bug had truly infected me, and I knew there would be no cure anytime soon.
So, in a bind, if someone asks me what my favorite place was to visit, I know I can safely default to that trip and know I won’t be lying. I may never have a favorite, but at least I know it will be difficult to ever beat that experience.
Matt Stabile is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheExpeditioner.com. You can read his writings, watch his travel videos, purchase the book he co-edited or contact him via email at any time at TheExpeditioner.com.